MY LITTLE CHICKADEE
My Little Chickadee (1940) is a Universal comedy/western motion picture starring Mae West and W. C. Fields, with Joseph Calleia, Ruth Donnelly, Margaret Hamilton, Donald Meek, Willard Robertson, Dick Foran, George Moran, William B. Davidson, and Addison Richards. It was directed by Edward F. Cline. The original music was written by Ben Oakland (song "Willie of the Valley") and Frank Skinner.
West reportedly wrote the original screenplay, with Fields contributing one extended scene set in a bar. Universal decided to give the stars equal screenplay credit, perhaps to avoid the appearance of favoritism, but the move incensed West, who declined to re-team with Fields afterwards. The stars spoofed themselves and the Western genre, with West providing a series of her trademark double entendres.
The story is set in the American Old West of the 1880s. Miss Flower Belle Lee (Mae West) is a singer from Chicago who is on her way to visit relatives out west. While she is traveling on a stagecoach with three men and a woman named Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton), the town gossip and busybody, a masked bandit on horseback holds up the stage for its shipment of gold and orders the passengers to step out.
The masked bandit immediately takes an interest in the saucy blonde. As he makes his getaway with the gold, he takes her with him. Upon reaching Little Bend, the others report the robbery and kidnapping to the sheriff (William B. Davidson). Flower Belle then walks into town, unharmed, and explains, "I was in a tight spot but I managed to wriggle out of it."
Later that evening, at the home of her Aunt Lou (Ruth Donnelly) and Uncle John (Willard Robertson), the masked bandit enters Flower Belle's second floor bedroom and they start kissing. However, his presence and departure is witnessed by Mrs. Gideon. She quickly reports what she has seen and Flower Belle angrily finds herself hauled up before the judge (Addison Richards). Flower Belle is then run out of Little Bend.
She boards a train to Greasewood City. It makes an unscheduled stop to pick up con-man Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C. Fields). When hostile Indians attack, Flower Belle saunters to a window and mows them down with two pistols, while Twillie dodges flying arrows and fights off the Indians with a child's slingshot. Flower Belle has little use for Twillie until she sees a stash of money in his bag. Believing him to be rich, she then plays up to him and they get acquainted. They have an impromptu wedding, officiated over by a passenger, Amos Budge (Donald Meek), a gambler who looks like a minister.
As she has only pretended to marry Twillie for "respectability," Flower Belle gets a separate hotel room in Greasewood City. Meanwhile, Twillie is made sheriff by the saloon owner and town boss Jeff Badger (Joseph Calleia), who has an ulterior motive. Flower Belle attracts the attention of Badger, newspaper editor Wayne Carter (Dick Foran), and every other man in town. While keeping her troublesome "husband" out of reach and out of trouble, Flower Belle encounters the masked bandit again.
One night, Twillie enters Flower Belle's room one night disguised as the masked bandit. He is accused of being the masked bandit, and is about to be hanged. With the noose around his neck, he makes his last request to the lynching party. "I'd like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do!" However, Flower Belle saves Twillie. At one point, she and Badger had kissed, and from that, she recognizes that he is the masked bandit.
When Flower Belle and Twillie say good-bye, West and Fields spoof each other's signature line.
"Come up and see me sometime," he says.
"Mmm, I will, my little chickadee," she replies.
As Flower Belle sashays up the stairs, "The End" is playfully overlaid on her posterior.
My Little Chickadee was the most successful film of 1940 after Gone With the Wind, despite only mediocre reviews from critics. It grossed upwards of $20 million in the United States alone, an outstanding amount at the time.
Pop culture references
"My little chickadee" is the catch phrase most associated with W.C. Fields. He first used it during a scene in If I Had a Million (1932) to address co-star Alison Skipworth.
"Come up and see me sometime" is an extremely famous misquotation of Mae West in She Done Him Wrong (1933). The actual line was "Why don't you come up sometime and see me."
My Little Chickadee was Mae West's first screen performance since Every Day's a Holiday (1937) for Paramount Pictures. This was her only performance for Universal, which now owns most of the pre-1950 Paramount film library.
W.C. Fields also starred in a series of comedies for Paramount in the 1930s. This was his second performance for Universal.
Margaret Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, which was released the year before My Little Chickadee. Fields had been considered for the role of the Wizard, but he declined the opportunity.